God’s Help When You Suffer – Program 2

By: Joni Eareckson Tada, Ken Tada, Dr. Michael Easley, Cindy Easley; ©2013
Can you still trust a God who doesn’t take away the pain or disability?


The Duration

Dr. Michael Easley: There are places, everyone gets there, John, when all the props are knocked out, you’re alone with God and the acknowledgement, it’s just me and pain. I can’t; Cindy can’t help me; no one else can help me; medications can’t help me. And it’s okay, it’s okay to say, “I’m lonely, Lord, and I’m afflicted, and I really need your help.”
How will God help you the day you hear bad news from your doctor? When you come to realize you will be living with pain and suffering the rest of your life? How does God help you make it through each day under such trying circumstances? Or when you recognize you are approaching the end, how will God help you then?
Joni Eareckson Tada: And I started thinking back on all the times when God has helped me, small ways, little ways, big ways. And somehow it broke through the bizarre, twisted, mind-bending, confounded, dumbfounded reality of my quadriplegia.
My guests today are Dr. Michael Easley, President Emeritus of Moody Bible Institute, and lead pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, Tennessee; and Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder of Joni & Friends, an international ministry for people with disabilities. Hear them talk about God’s Help When You Suffer on this special edition of The John Ankerberg Show.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. My guests are Dr. Michael Easley and Joni Eareckson Tada. And we’re talking about some very tough topics, but this is for you folks that are at home. We talked last week about folks that have heard the big bad news. You’ve got cancer; you’ve had a stroke; you’ve had an accident and you’re disabled; you’re going blind; whatever, okay. My mom heard the news she had Lou Gehrig’s disease. And I remember that time where you hit the shock, okay. And then after the shock you start doing the treatments. You go in for the surgery or rehabilitation or whatever, and then you come home. And I call this program today “The Duration.” It’s the life after the big event. It may be a short one. For my mom it was 24 months. For Joni, after her big event it’s been 46 years in the wheelchair. And during that time it’s suffering, and it doesn’t get better. It’s getting worse and worse.
What I want to know, how can we say God is loving when we’re in this condition? Where is God? What help can we get from Him? And these folks are experts in pain and they also know the Lord, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Michael, take us back to the fact of 2008, and, well, before that; after you came out of the surgery, okay, for your neck, and talk a little bit about that, the daily routines. Compare what you used to do and then what you’re facing now.
Easley: Yeah, first of all I have to comment. I really resent being called an expert on pain. How about you, Joni?
Tada: I do too!
Easley: I really resent that. You know, 1999-2000ish was the precursor of all these surgeries, John. And at the worst time, it was actually before the 2008 surgery, but we were in Virginia, Cindy and I sitting on the sofa in our house there in, outside of Washington, D.C. And I had never been in so much pain in my life. I was taking the oxycontin, the hydrocodone, the Lyrica, the gabapentin, Neurontin. All these medications they were just throwing at me to try and turn the noise down as I say, and nothing was helping. And I got to a point where, as a racketball player, a guy that kept the yard perfectly, could fix any appliance in the home, worked on all the cars, could do everything myself, and it was taken away. And I sat on this couch with Cindy, with tears running down my chin, going, “I don’t think I can do this.” And I told her, not literally, but I said the words, “I think I’m going to jump off the highway.” I didn’t mean I was going to go kill myself, but that’s, given the future of if I have to live like this, I don’t know how I’m going to do it. And, of course, you’ll hear her story how she processed that information.
After I said that to her I remembering looking at her, and she looked at me, and I asked, “How do we go on?” And without maybe 10 seconds pause she said, “I look back on our lives and God’s been faithful to this very day. Why would He not be faithful tomorrow?” And that was God throwing me a lifeline, that, okay, I know that up here intellectually. I know it in my brain. My wife believes it. I’m going to hang on to it. And in a way her faith was kind of carrying me at that point. Maybe there will be some relief in the future.
Ankerberg: Then God took you to Scripture and showed you some unbelievably wonderful things, and I want you to share that with folks that are in the same boat, Michael. The pain is just pushing them over the top. They don’t know how they can go on.
Easley: Yeah, Psalm 25 is a rich text, and I encourage folks to read it, to memorize it, especially if you deal with these things. But a number of these passages jumped off the page at me. The psalmist writes in Psalm 25, “Remember, O Lord, Your compassion and Your lovingkindness, for they have been from old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Your lovingkindness remember me. For Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.” Compassion and lovingkindness are two primary themes in the Old Testament. Compassion in Isaiah 49:15 is the way a nursing mother looks at her child with compassion. And what a great picture of God having compassion on His children. Lovingkindness is, in my opinion, the most important word in the Bible, in the Old Testament in particular. And God loves to be loyal to two things, His chosen people and His covenant promises. His people and His promises. And God loves to be loyal to those two things. God’s loyalty is not like man’s loyalty, feeble and fickle and failing. God ethically loves us like He chose us and His covenant promises. So I think of God’s lovingkindness and compassion toward me, toward Joni, toward anyone who struggles; it boggles our minds. He knows all about us. We’ve talked about His high priestly intercession. He cares about us more than a mother has compassion for her nursing baby, and He loves us because He chose us, and because He’s made promises to us. That’s a lot of theology to fall into, but that’s bedrock for me, that I can land on that knowledge, that that’s the kind of love He has, even though I sinned as a youth, even though I sin as an adult, He still has compassion and lovingkindness toward me.
Ankerberg: Michael, that lovingkindness and that compassion that God has applies to even those of us that are big sinners.
Easley: Oh, sure. And as Joni and I will readily admit, we’re huge sinners. And were it not for His lovingkindness and compassion the sinner has no hope. Before we know Christ it’s a little different. We have to come to terms with who He is and put our trust in Christ. Once we believe in Christ, we continue to sin, but that lovingkindness is persistent. It never stops, it never fails. He loves us so much He’s going to send His Son to die in our place, in our stead, on our behalf. You know, my mom had this saying, John, when I was a boy, when we complained she’d say, “I’d cut off my arm if it would help you. I’d give you my right arm.”
Ankerberg: Yeah.
Easley: And as I grew to understand what she’s saying, you would die for someone you love. You would do anything you could for someone you loved that much. And God, in the person of Christ, He loves us that much, that He says, “I’m going to kill My Son because I love you, so that you have a way to remedy your sin condition.” And that’s the lovingkindness, the compassion of God that’s immeasurable.
Ankerberg: Why is it so hard for us to believe that, Michael?
Easley: I think there’s a mechanism inside each of us, we’ve got to do something. We don’t like God on our terms. We’ve made an image of God the way we think He is and the way He operates. He’s a loving, merciful, kind God, and we put all these conditions on: I couldn’t love a God who…, I don’t believe in a God that…, I could never embrace a truth because…. But Scripture tells us He loves us; He died in our place, on our behalf, instead of us; and that’s the greatest demonstration, Romans 5:8, the greatest demonstration of Christ’s love.
Ankerberg: Let’s apply the theology to the everyday life. You have no strength. You’re hurting every second, okay. How do you stay from being grumpy and not complaining to your wife? Did it change your relationship with the family? How did you apply the theology to the circumstances?
Easley: It’s lonely. There are times when I have to withdraw. I have to go to my basement and avoid my family because, when the pain is up in that 7, 8 and 9 level, you’re not pleasant to be around. And that’s when it comes down to me, God and pain. And I’m going to hole up with Christ; I’m going to hole up with His Word. I’m going to try to withdraw, not to, you know, disassociate entirely, but there are times I’ve got to get away. And Cindy’s remarkable in giving me that space. It’s hard on our kids. In God’s sovereign plan that’s part of their story.
Ankerberg: Did you have bouts of depression?
Easley: Oh, sure. And there’s a corollary with anyone who lives with chronic pain. You will have depression. And if you have good medical professionals they’ll ask you questions about that. And there’s all sorts of over-spiritualization about we can’t take medicine for depression. That’s a long discussion. But there’s no nobility in suffering so badly that you can’t function.
Ankerberg: What did you hang on to in terms of God?
Easley: I come back again and again to He loves me; He knows all about me; He accepts me even though I’m a sinner, even though I’m in chronic pain. The harder part for me, John, was I was half the man I used to be. And that’s hard to swallow when you’re a type A, think you can do everything person, and to realize, okay, this is Christ’s life that I’m living, not Michael’s life. And I want to serve Him. So then it comes back around, am I going to serve myself or am I going to serve my Savior?
Ankerberg: In a minute, tell me about Barbara, and relate that to the fact of that pain, God and you.
Easley: Barbara, who is a precious friend of Cindy’s and mine, lives with the excruciating pain of MS. And she taught me the three things in a dark tunnel: me, God and pain. And she has this saying, when I’m there I hate it, but there’s no place I’d rather be. Because all the props are gone and your faith is either real; and your God is either real; or it’s a philosophy or an –ism or an –ology. And because Christ suffered more than we can comprehend, there is a solace there; there’s a fellowship of suffering. I love to hear Joni talk about the fellowship of suffering. I don’t understand it all, John. But there’s a wonderful, horrible sacredness when you align yourself: I’m suffering, not like Jesus did, but He suffered for me, in my place, instead of me.
Ankerberg: That’s fantastic, Michael. In a moment we’re going to come back. We’re going to talk to Joni Eareckson Tada. And, folks, you know, 46 years she’s been in that wheelchair, but the last 12 years she’s had searing, searing pain that racks her body. And we’re going to ask her to talk about that and what God has done to help her in that situation. Stick with us, we’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Michael Easley and Joni Eareckson Tada. And, Joni, when folks look at you, we are just amazed. It’s just way over our head what you’ve experienced in your life. And we know that you broke your neck. You’ve been in this wheelchair for 46 years. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that during the last 12 years you’ve started having extreme, extreme pain shooting through your body. Where you used to have operations where you didn’t even have anesthesia, all of a sudden for some crazy reason, now you’ve got this pain that just wipes you out. It started, I think, in Holland, didn’t it?
Tada: Well, it had been leading up to that point. I was in Europe with my husband speaking at various churches in both Western and Eastern Europe. And it was a busy schedule, a tiring schedule. And the last few days we spent in Holland with friends. And we were at the home of a good friend of ours, a Dutch friend. And he had set the table elegantly and it was a beautiful sumptuous dinner, and crystal and candlelight and china. And I’m sitting at the head of the table in tears, near tears, fighting it back. And finally I just turned to my host, and the conversation just stopped dead. I’ve got to leave. I just have to go. I’ve got to lay down. And I’m the sort of person who usually covers those kinds of incidents with perseverance, with grit your teeth, put on a smile and we’re going to make this work. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.
Ken escorted me to a side room, and my girlfriend and Ken laid me down on a couch. And I could hear all the dinner party continue on, on the other side of the wall. The laughter, the talking, the clinking of glasses; and I am sinking, sinking, sinking. Because this pain had been creeping up on me for a year or so, and now it had just gotten to the point where I could not tolerate it. Ken, bless his heart, said, “As soon as we get back to the States, Joni, we’re going to go on an all out manhunt for what’s wrong with you.” And sure enough, he did. I went through every medical test you can imagine.
I remember sitting in the doctor’s office with my husband, after a series of test, waiting for this expectant news that it was going to be a gall bladder problem. Get your gall bladder out, Joni; you’ll be fine. And I’ll never forget the sink of disappointment when I heard, no, it’s not your gall bladder. No, it’s not your kidneys. It’s not your lungs. No, you’re fine. No, it’s not your intestinal tract. The best we can come up with, Joni, is that your hip is out of joint. You have pelvic obliquity, and your bones are way too porous for us to operate. And you’re just going to have to take a deep breath and move forward into life with that.
I felt as though there was this thick glass wall between myself and the doctor. And it was his words that were bouncing off this glass wall. I could see everybody. I could see all the activity. I could even see my dear husband; and yet, I felt so estranged and separated, so isolated. A little like Michael on the couch that day, where you felt like your life as you knew it has ended. And from here on out it’s going to be a frightening and a difficult thing.
Ankerberg: And it affected a couple areas. One, is it started chipping away at your faith in the Lord, and in His sovereignty, that He’s allowing this to happen to you. And secondly, the circumstances are just pushing you away from Ken and your relationship. Talk about those two.
Tada: When my pain became consistent and when I had to be turned at night, not just my normal one time, but now two, three, four, five times, that meant Ken had to get up, come over to the bed, reposition me on it, re-tuck my pillows, pull the covers up, re-tuck my head pillow. And I would last in that position maybe a few hours and I’d have to be turned again on the other side. This began to wear on him, and I could see it in his eyes. I felt horribly guilty that I was pushing my husband away and that he seemed to not be able to have the resources to help me anymore. And that made me feel all the more lonely in the midst of my pain.
And I called out to God. I remember one night at 2 A.M. I was in this terrible position. I could not, I could not call my husband one more time. At 5 A.M. he had to get up and go teach school. I could not ask him to turn me one more time. So I just bit my tongue and laid there whimpering, hoping that soon the sun would rise, the day would be brighter, the pain would go away. And I remember just saying, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, ruler of heaven and earth; Jesus Christ, Son of God, ruler of heaven and earth. Jesus Christ, help me, Son of God, ruler of heaven and earth.” And I just repeated the name of Jesus. I clung to Jesus. I remember singing “I must tell Jesus all of my trials, I cannot bear these burdens alone. In my distress He kindly will help me. Jesus will help me, Jesus alone.”
And, sure, I was having problems with His sovereignty and what the future might look like. But in that moment I clung to Jesus, my only hope, the blessed hope, the One who had rescued me out of my sin so long ago; the One who had met me at every point of need time and time again with His grace. I didn’t know what the future would hold, but I knew with Him holding my hand and leading me, I could do it. I was going to be able to do it.
Ankerberg: Your question, I think is the question that a lot of folks have that are in our audience watching, maybe here and around the world. They do believe in God’s sovereignty, but they are suffering. Is God’s perfect will for me endless pain on top of hopeless paralysis? How can I go on trusting Him with this pain searing through my body and it doesn’t stop?
Tada: You know, when we open up our hearts to Jesus Christ, there really is no fine print in the contract. It’s clearly stated there, “if you believe in Me then you will suffer on my behalf.” I don’t understand the Father’s logic here, but for some purpose, for some plan, He only gives His joy and His peace on His terms. And those terms call for us to, in some measure, suffer as His own Son did on earth. And when we’re told in the gospel of Luke to daily take up our cross and follow Him, nobody wants to go to the cross. Oh, we’ll listen to Jesus in some flowery field where He preaches a sermon about lilies. And we’ll listen to Jesus on the beach when He pushes out from the shore in a boat and teaches and preaches. But to follow Him to the cross, to take up our cross daily and to crucify the fear, the worry, the doubt, the resentments, the bitterness, the spitefulness, to crucify the sins in our lives that He died for on His cross, that’s what it means to enter that inner sanctum of sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings. When we experience that sweetness. Jesus met me that night at 5 A.M. when I didn’t want to wake Ken up one more time. He was there. His grace was sufficient. He saw me through. And you know what? The day did dawn; it was brighter. No, the pain did not go away, but He gave me hope. And I was able to make it.
Ankerberg: Talk about your relationship with Ken during this time.
Tada: I remember one night, Ken had just had too much. He sat on the edge of the bed, shook his head and heaved, and said, “Joni, I can’t do this. I’m trapped. I feel so trapped.” When he said that, I suddenly felt this sense of responsibility: that if I’m an ambassador for Jesus, I’ve got to care about this man. It’s not all about me. It’s about him too. And so, after a long moment of silence, I said to him, “Well, sweetheart, if I were you I’d feel the exact same way. So I’m not going to blame you. I’m not going to scold you. I’m not going to chide you for feeling trapped or feeling like you don’t want to take care of me anymore. If I were you I wouldn’t want to take care of me anymore. But I just want you to know I understand. I get it. I’m with you in this, and I’m not going to leave you. I’m going to trust God alongside of you, cheer you on with my prayers. And together we’re going to get out of this, because I think you’re doing a great job. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s a great job.”
That was a huge turning point, a big leap forward in our marriage. But also a turning point for me, in that I recognized that my pain was screaming for my undivided attention. It just wanted my undivided attention; that’s it. And no; I realized I had to push through and think of others, especially my dear husband. And to get my focus off my pain and on somebody else was a big step toward enduring it and persevering through it.
Ankerberg: Michael, in 30 seconds what do you want to say to the folks? You’re at a seven on a scale of 1 to 10 right now, okay, in terms of pain. Other people are at seven, eight. What do you want them to do?
Easley: You know, John, two things that have sustained me. One of Luther’s comments, you don’t have to get better to be well. And the choice that we both make in very different realities; that I can choose to worship; I can choose to trust even though I don’t feel well. And the other is a Puritan corollary: It’s not how well you’re doing; it’s how you’re doing when you’re not doing well. And both those help me enormously to say that there’s a lot more than just the physical constant distraction of the noise of pain that you can’t turn down or control. Somewhere in this relationship with Christ, it’s more than physical; it’s more than distraction. And there is an exquisite, excruciating horrible wonderful place when you’re with Christ there and there’s nowhere else to turn to. And when all the props are gone and you’re struggling and wrestling, turn to Him. Turn to Him. He knows. He cares. He loves you more than you comprehend. And faith is believing that, no matter what your circumstance tells you, no matter what the noise and distraction tells you. He loves you inordinately, and He understands you perfectly.
Ankerberg: Great stuff. Next week, folks, I hope you join us because we’re going to go to the third point in time. You have the bad news, and the circumstances around that. You hear what’s happening to you. The duration is what we were talking about today, you’re living with pain. But you’re coming toward the finish. Some of you are coming a little faster than the rest of us. These folks have both thought they were at the finish line at different times in their life, and they know it’s still coming. What do we need to know to calm our own mind? What is God going to do for us when we hit the point of death? It’s going to be a fascinating program. I hope that you will join us then.

Read Part 3


  1. Peg Mann on September 8, 2015 at 6:51 am

    My son passed away (my only child) Nov 2013 and I truly know what it is to suffer and to seek answers in the dark night of the soul. Many of the things talked about in the article on suffering are things I have also felt. Sometimes I see Jesus clearly in this and know He will make this all come out right one day and other times I’m a sheet flapping in the wind and feel despair and bitterness that this happened in my life. I’ve learned many lessons in the darkness that I would never have learned. Just like others have said the same thing. I would never have picked this road but I am here now and I need to figure out a way to make something good come out of it. Mostly it is about taking the next step and hanging on to God, shaking as I go, holding back the tears and seeking His goodness. Believing my son is with Him now and so much safer than he was here in his addictions and depression.

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